Michigan may be known as the Great Lakes State—and the water-based recreational options really are abounding—but the incredible hiking should not be overlooked. Not only is Michigan the nation’s 11th largest state, it also holds the largest number of local and federal forests in the U.S. Whether you want to hike to an isolated beach, catch a float plane to Isle Royale, or be in awe of a backcountry waterfall, Michigan has a lot to offer, and you’re never left disappointed.
1. Porcupine Mountains—Escarpment Trail
Distance: 4.3 miles
Location: Ontonagon, MI
Venturing out on the Escarpment Trail in the Porcupine Mountains, you are rewarded with vistas of Lake of the Clouds, Lake Superior, the Carp River Valley, and one of the greatest feelings of grandeur the Upper Midwest has to offer. No doubt, this hike will leave you feeling like you just walked off of the Pacific Crest Trail, with its dusty singletrack, its exposure to the elements, and its commanding views of the surrounding hillsides. While this is only a 4-mile section, a significant change in elevation makes it a challenge.
2. North Country Trail—Marquette to Little Presque Isle
Distance: 4 miles
Location: Marquette, MI
Just out of downtown Marquette is a 2-mile section of the North Country Trail that skirts along the shore of Lake Superior and heads up to Little Presque Isle, which is a sandy and forested tract of land often referred to as "The Crown Jewel of Lake Superior". Making your way north toward Little Presque, the trail begins to climb a bit above the lake, and rugged rock outcroppings of various geological periods begin to appear. Once you reach the isle, you'll be treated to a gorgeous stretch of beach bordered by Superior's clear blue waters on one side and heavily timbered forests on the other.
3. Isle Royale – Greenstone Ridge Trail
Distance: 40 miles
Location: Isle Royale, MI
Logistics are the most difficult part of this life-changing adventure. The work pays off in spades, however, once you get off the ferry or float plane. Isle Royale sits 45 miles long and 8.5 miles across but boasts over 160 miles of hiking trails. The Greenstone Ridge Trail splits the island in two, providing vistas of the sweeping landscape, traversing through dense pine forest, exposed bedrock, and blueberry bushes. This multi-day trip is one for your lifetime bucket list that you will not stop talking about.
4. Jordan River Pathway
Distance: 19 miles
Location: Mancelona, MI
Probably one of the Lower Peninsula’s more popular weekend backpacking routes, this 19-mile loop has a walk-in campground near its halfway point. A tall overhead canopy helps keep the warm sun at bay during the summer, but pack the bug spray as this lowland area tends to be dense in mosquitos and horse flies. Winding through the cedar banks of a prime trout stream helps take your mind off the seemingly constant rolling terrain and the insects, making this one of the local favorites.
5. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore—Chapel Rock/Grand Portal Loop
Distance: 9.7 miles
Location: Munising, MI
This 9.7-mile loop ties together three iconic heavy-hitters of the Upper Peninsula: Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, and Grand Portal Point. Leave yourself plenty of time to gawk at Chapel Rock and soak in the expansive views provided by the 3.5-mile section of the Lakeshore Trail right along Lake Superior, including the view of Grand Portal Point. The incredible clarity of the water brings out the rich teal and aquamarine coloring of Lake Superior. Different trail options exist, so before you go, it's important to plan ahead.
6. Mackinac Island—Perimeter Loop
Distance: 8 miles
Location: Mackinac Island, MI
The fact that they do not allow cars here makes Mackinac Island the epitome of hiker-friendly locations in Michigan. To gain the seclusion typically sought in hiking, simply start following the paved road out of town in either direction, it will soon turn to a narrower bike path as it circumnavigates the island. Afterwards, be sure to grab some fudge and head to the lawn below Fort Mackinac to relax.
7. Tahquamenon Falls—Upper to Lower Falls
Distance: 0.6 or 9.6 miles
Location: Paradise, MI
Potentially Michigan's best river hike, this 4.8-mile one-way trail takes you from the Upper Falls to the Lower Falls along the Tahquamenon River. It is a rolling path that takes you to river level and back up several times through dense forest and vegetation. There is also a 0.3-mile trail that is primarily a steep descent on stairs leading down to the Upper Falls for those not wishing to hike as far. To refresh after the hike, head back up to the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub.
8. South Manitou Island—Dunes Trail Loop
Distance: 9.1 miles
Location: South Manitou Island, MI
A 90-minute boat trip from Leland takes you to a place with miles of hiking trails, scenic beaches, a shipwreck view, some of the world’s largest cedars, and primitive camping. The Dunes Loop will first take you to see the wreck of the Francisco Morazan, through an old growth white cedar forest, over perched dunes, to a vista overlooking the entire island, and then finally a walk back along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.
9. Sturgeon Falls
Distance: 1.5 miles
Location: Baraga, MI
A very challenging 1.5-mile roundtrip takes you into a deep canyon to Sturgeon Falls, a powerful blast falling 30 feet. For the adventurous, continue upstream along the gorge for a Grand Canyon-like experience, as the gorge depth is near 300ft in some places. There is nearby camping and also North Country Trail access for those hoping to make a weekend trip to the area.
10. Waterloo-Pinckney Recreation Trail
Distance: 36 miles
Location: Chelsea, MI
Located 1 hour west of Detroit, the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail links together the two more popular southern Michigan recreation spots. While neither rugged nor remote, this trail provides a great weekend hiking destination in close proximity to the major population centers in Michigan. It contains upland and lowland habitats, high ridges, and wildlife to create an even greater sense of being away from the big city. Be sure to bring plenty of water and a filter as sources are scarce and note that it is a mixed-use trail, so there will be people on mountain bikes and horseback.